NLDS Game 2: The Pittsburgh Pirates we didn't see on Thursday

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals put together their ideal game on Thursday. What would a dominant performance from the Pirates look like?

Those—those are the St. Louis Cardinals you have to worry about. Adam Wainwright's just about perfect, and the offense is remarkable mainly for how long it takes to get to the shortstop, and how many well-above-average hitters there are in front of him. They were the deep Cardinals, the ones who have pitchers they didn't even bother with in the regular season who will nevertheless come out of the bullpen throwing 99 and playing a shallow third base in one of the lowest-leverage innings of the series.

They were the Cardinals with Postseason Experience—two hits from David Freese and a long, game-breaking home run from Carlos Beltran, who's only ever failed in October against the tall guy he drove in from second. They were the Cardinals in St. Louis on a really nice afternoon.

Where "you" are a fan of some other team or, somehow, an actual baseball team, you have to worry about these Cardinals. Where "you" are a member of this blog's primary demographic—well, it was a very nice game.

But there are more of them coming, and it seems reasonable to assume that the Pirates will show off their own set of worrying skills in at least one of them. At a glance, here's some of the things we might worry about, if you're the worrying type.

This is a strikingly balanced offense

The Pirates don't have the surplus of all-star-caliber hitters the Cardinals boast, but they've got something nearly as impressive, at least to people who see Baseball Reference when they close their eyes—they can deploy an offense composed entirely of hitters with an OPS+ over 100. So long as Clint Barmes is around they don't seem especially inclined to do so, but they certainly could.

The way it's structured partakes of all kinds of Cardinal-offense stereotypes—one superstar surrounded by a klatsch of solid late-twentysomethings under team control, some weird August trade targets, and a shortstop who's hitting .211.

The pitching is just as consistent

Another Cardinals analogy, if you feel like drawing it—the Pirates' pitching staff is not scary in any one place, and is stocked by a weird combination of retreads having great years, non-prospects, and Gerrit Cole, but it's unusually steady. James McDonald flaming out completely is manageable when Francisco Liriano has his third healthy season in eight years, Charlie Morton's Roy Halladay impression pays off, and A.J. Burnett leads the National League in strikeouts per nine innings.

Their inexplicably deep rotation is what got them to the postseason in the first place, but it's also one of those long-season advantages the postseason kind of neutralizes. Five average pitchers who throw 30 starts a piece is a good way to win 100 games, but eventually two of those interchangeable steady guys have to outpitch Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling.

In this series, one of them had to outpitch Adam Wainwright, and he didn't. From there, though, things get murkier; Cole gives the Pirates an advantage in Game 2, and the Cardinals' decision to go with Joe Kelly instead of Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha would appear to give Francisco Liriano the advantage in Game 3.

It's not a great team, but it's a thoroughly good team

If this weren't the first good Pirates team in 20 years it would have a hard time leaving much of an impression. It's not that they aren't fun to watch; guys like Liriano, Burnett, Pedro Alvarez, and Starling Marte have the kind of unbalanced skill-sets that seem designed to maximize entertainment-per-WAR.

It's just that there isn't a story of how, exactly, this team beats you. The outlines of that ideal Cardinals performance are years old by now—the veterans, the postseason heroes, the depth. Fans of other teams have hate-searched "Best fans in baseball" on Twitter at the conclusion of that story over and over already.

The Pirates did so much reconfiguring on the fly—and had so many surprising contributors to begin with—that it's harder to imagine them at their best before they are. Like their star, they just happen to be pretty good at everything you happen to watch them do.

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